And so the legend goes...

Eleven heroes. Eleven battles. One award.

By Our Bureau in Alipore
  • Published 24.04.18
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(From left) Thyelnai Dawn Khaling, Jamuna Tuddu, Subhas Datta, Simon Oraon, Major General A.K. Sanyal, GOC, Bengal Sub Area, Vijay Srinivas of National Insurance, D.D. Purkayastha, MD and CEO, ABP Group, Eva Katherina Kleekamm, Moirangthem Muktamani Devi, Surya Prakash Rai, Sankar Halder, Vikash Das, Sharda Radhakrishnan and Rosalin Patasani Mishra at the National Insurance presents True Legends Awards 2018 in association with The Telegraph, at Taj Bengal on Monday. Maj. Gen. Sanyal, Purkayastha and Srinivas were among those who gave away the awards. Pictures by Pradip Sanyal and Bishwarup Dutta

Alipore: Eleven heroes. Eleven battles. One award.

National Insurance presents True Legends Awards 2018, in association with The Telegraph, honoured men and women for changing lives in their own unique ways at the Crystal Hall of Taj Bengal on Monday.

The award recognised their outstanding perseverance, contribution and dedication to go beyond their calling, overcome obstacles to make this world a better place for many.

From health care to animal welfare and education to environment, this year's legends contributed in varied ways in Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Odisha and the North-east.

An audience comprising diplomats, doctors, educationists and more listened with rapt attention and broke into applause every time a story unfolded.

K.B. Vijay Srinivas, general manager, National Insurance Company, saluted the legends. "In our society there are people who do big things, who do great things, they are marked, they are revered, they are talked about. Yet, society carries on through the works of innumerable men and women who take small steps to answer unfulfilled needs. These are people who care, who have a passion for taking it upon themselves to do something meaningful."

Metro salutes the True Legends

Bengal

SUBHAS DATTA, 70

A chartered accountant by training, a crusader by choice. Subhas Datta fought for issues that most people didn't recognise as significant.

Datta proved in Calcutta High Court, citing the state pollution control board's data, that the fair Calcutta so loved could actually kill its people. The air pollution level in the Maidan area took a leap during the Book Fair. "A Telegraph journalist helped me find the pollution control board report," he says. The court ordered the Book Fair to be shifted away from the Maidan. Even the then chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's complaints didn't make Datta relent.

He is also the man behind the phasing out of two-stroke autorickshaws from the city roads, to be replaced by four-stroke ones with better emission standards.

Datta is now fighting the state government for a switch to CNG vehicles.

Spotlight speak: I consider myself to be the scavenger of this city. I was once featured in a book with a broom in my hands. It is really nice that the Unputdownable is recognising the down-to-earth activist.

SANKAR HALDER, 43

The IT professional founded a non-profit organisation in 2003 to "repay" his neighbour who had sponsored his education. Fifteen years later. NGO MUKTI is synonymous with a better life in the Sunderbans.

In 2017-18, the NGO arranged sponsorship for 129 students from poor families, including 28 who are studying to be doctors and 33 who have enrolled for engineering.

MUKTI has also built more than 20,000 toilets in villages, set up a book bank and created women's self-help groups. One of its newer projects focuses on educating farmers to switch to organic agriculture and marketing their produce.

Spotlight speak: It is not an individual's recognition. This is a recognition of the people I want to help and the people who help me do this.

EVA KATHERINA KLEEKAMM, 47

The former banker from Munich is godmother to about 25 children in the city. She admitted them to school and pays for their education from her own savings and with some help from friends in Germany.

It all started in 2004, when a seven-year-old girl's face peeped out from behind her mother and said she wanted to go to school. The little girl is now a student at a hotel management institute in the city.

Eva has settled down in the city and goes to Germany only on vacation. Even when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016, she decided to stay back in Calcutta to be with "her children".

Spotlight speak: When I first heard (about the award) I was speechless because I thought very important people get such awards. I do not give too much importance to myself. But this award will be a big support for my children and when I show it to my friends in Germany they will be proud too.

SHARDA RADHAKRISHNAN, 59

A hospital for animals in Sonarpur that is home to 500 dogs, seven horses, several cows and even injured kites has been this animal lover's life and passion for the past 10 years.

The dogs at Chhaya include strays injured in accidents as well as pets of various breeds - Rottweiler, German shepherd, Great Dane, bull mastiff, spitz, golden retriever and Labrador - abandoned because of old age or sickness.

When a horse named Moti was found lying on the Maidan last month, Chhaya took it in and nursed it back to health.

Radhakrishnan has trained youths of the neighbourhood around Chhaya as para vets, who manage the hospital and take the ambulance to north and south Calcutta on alternate days to pick up stray dogs that need treatment. When Radhakrishnan started the hospital, she would ferry ailing and injured dogs in her own car.

Spotlight speak: I never thought the kind of work I do is worthy of such recognition and I thank The Telegraph for it. But, on second thoughts, this award is important for people to realise there are animals who need to be cared for and that it is our responsibility to help them.

BIHAR

SURYA PRAKASH RAI, 36

A community library in a small village in Bihar's Gopalganj district, some 200km from Patna, has changed the way 400-odd students and their parents think about education.

Rai wants to help eliminate the caste system and encourage students of different backgrounds to come together in the same room to read, study, and interact with each other.

Spotlight speak: This is a huge recognition. Our efforts are bearing fruit and this will give us a lot of impetus going forward.

Jharkhand

SIMON ORAON, 84

Born into a family of farmers who relied heavily on rainwater for agriculture, this Class I dropout went on to build five irrigation reservoirs.

He is the man behind mass tree plantation, digging of wells and ponds in the Bero block near Ranchi that covers 51 villages.

Back in 1961, Oraon tried building a reservoir at the foot of a hill. He succeeded after two failed attempts. The waterman, as he is popularly known, received the Padma Shri in 2016.

Spotlight speak: I am happy to receive the award but I would be happier if the farmers back home got enough water to farm and drink. Only when that happens would I be truly happy.

JAMUNA TUDDU, 38

The resident of Muturkham village in Chakulia, Jharkhand, has been protecting forests in the area since she was 18.

She began her crusade against the timber mafia with just five women by her side. Together, they would visit the forests thrice a day and fight those who tried to cut trees. Tuddu's arms include bows and arrows.

Twenty years on, Tuddu has 200 Van Suraksha Samitis in East Singhbhum district to patrol and protect the forests. Each committee has 15 women and 10 men.

"I have been pelted with stones, my home has been robbed but I have not given up," said Tuddu.

Spotlight speak: It makes me proud that The Telegraph is acknowledging the efforts of women working in remote villages and honouring them in the city. We never thought when we started that so many people outside our district would know about us.

Odisha

VIKASH DAS, 29

A social enterprise set up in 2014 has built a network of nearly 2,300 women across four states and changed their lives.

The organisation has developed a sustainable business model to ensure financial independence for women in Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Bengal.

Das's life changed when he saw a tribal woman being dragged out of a festival for being a "lowborn". He left his cushy IT job and set up Vat Vrikshya.

Spotlight speak: We don't work for awards. But this incredible recognition puts a lot of responsibility on my shoulders. I hope I can live up to that.

ROSALIN PATASANI MISHRA, 36

The founder of Parichay Foundation, that works for empowerment of women, education for underprivileged children and promotion of Odiya art and culture, has taken up a new project in Salia Sahi Slum, the largest slum in Bhubaneswar.

Spotlight speak: We go through a lot of stress and pain. It is good to get such recognition at times. This will motivate me to keep going.

Manipur

THYELNAI DAWN KHALING, 42

A doctor and an Indian Air Force wing commander, he set up a classroom in his house for children whose parents could not afford to send them to school,

Khaling, who hails from a village in Khangshim, Manipur, stressed the need for education. The school he started was an attempt to educate the children of a domestic help working at his home.

"People should not miss out on education because they can't afford it. Education empowers children to face the challenges of the future with dignity," Khaling said.

His father was the first person from the Uipo Naga community to pass the matric examination.

Khaling's classroom has grown over the years and today it has more than 30 children. He takes classes after his shift ends at 5pm.

Khaling's Ascension Educational Trust (AET) also provides free coaching for MBBS entrance test besides CPR and first-aid training.

His colleagues from the air force also contribute to the project as volunteers whenever possible.

Spotlight speak: It is a recognition of what we have been doing though we never sought any recognition. So it came as a surprise.

MOIRANGTHEM MUKTAMANI DEVI, 59

In 1989, Muktamani Devi couldn't afford a pair of shoes for her daughter. She knitted a pair on the sole of a torn shoe with woollen threads for her second daughter. At school, her daughter was scared when her teacher approached her during assembly. The girl knew the shoe she was wearing didn't conform to the school uniform. But the teacher smiled and asked, "Who made these?". The teacher wanted the same shoes for his daughter.

This was how Muktamani Devi's journey in shoe-making began. Today, she exports shoes to Australia, the UK, France, Mexico and some African countries. She set up Mukta Shoes Industry in 1990-91.

Over the years she has helped train many unemployed women in Manipur so that they could earn a living making shoes.

Spotlight speak: I would dedicate this award to women back home who have been working relentlessly along with me. In the beginning, I only knew how to make ends meet in my family but today I am proud to bring in so many women like me to follow their dreams. My story of adversity gave birth to Mukta Shoes Industry.